P'tit Quinquin (Alane Delhaye) is a little boy in rural France, something of a troublemaker locally thanks to his love of firecrackers and setting them off at every opportunity. He may be an altar boy in the village church, but he is far from angelic, and is always on the lookout for ways to wind up the adults, in particular his father, a farmer, but today he and his friends find their imaginations captivated by the helicopter that flies low over their heads when they are playing on the beach. They follow it as it arrives at a bunker in a field, then lifts a dead cow from it, a place where any cow, living or dead, should not have been able to be; the Inspector, Commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost), is baffled but determined - especially when a woman's body is found inside.
Bruno Dumont made a comedy? Yes, he did, and this television series was it, a work consisting of four episodes lasting just over three hours, though in some territories it was presented as one, long film, something of a marathon. It was probably better to experience in that quartet of parts, though while each built to what was effectively a cliffhanger, this was by no means a conventional narrative that many viewers would be used to in the detective or crime serial format. It was no Broadchurch, it did not follow the rules of establishing the mystery then having the investigators solve it, indeed it came across as if Dumont was not interested in any solution whatsoever, merely spinning out the conundrum without end.
Well, it did end, it ended after three hours, but you could see why that conclusion would frustrate those wishing for the satisfaction of a proper closure to what was baffling, not only to the characters but the viewers as well. We were teased with possible clues, but none of them ever resulted in anything concrete, though after a while you began to twig that we were here to be enjoying the antics of the detective in charge, Van der Weyden, played by Pruvost who had never acted on screen before. Watching his extremely eccentric behaviour, with his constantly mobile eyebrows and confounded expression regularly clouding his features, and you would either find him highly amusing or find him rubbing you up the wrong way.
At least he was sympathetic, even if he was a bumbler in a very French style of humour, but the title character was a lot less engaging. Dumont purposefully created the little boy to be as obnoxious as possible, not merely thanks to his firecracker throwing, but because he has grown up in an isolated location therefore you perceive his limited experience of life has already soured him against the world. He does show occasional affection, as he has a girlfriend of the same age who he gets along with as they frequently embrace, but then you had to counter that with his racist bullying as he picks on the two non-white kids in the area, actions which eventually have terrible consequences. Then again, it would appear that just about everything had terrible consequences here, for it was difficult to discern the precise cause and effect.
Certainly Van der Weyden and his assistant Carpentier, he of the questionable driving skills, struggle to work out exactly why so many people are being found dead in bizarre ways. At first, when the initial body is found, they think the deceased has been stuffed up the cow's backside but then the autopsy reveals they have been fed to the creature which was why the parts are inside, and presumably why the cow died too. Then another dead cow is discovered, again with someone murdered inside, and the bodies begin to mount up, the only lead the police can see revolving around Quinquin's father who has a link to those who have been killed, but nothing they can suddenly be able to point the finger at. Was Dumont saying something about the ephemeral nature of life and death, how hard it can be to really understand anything when the more you examine it, the less clear it seems? Or was he simply having a laugh with these hicks? It was funny in many places, depending on your tolerance for deadpan absurdity, but not for all tastes.